More on “Mac-Like”

In the comments to my article on Mac Word 6.0, Chris Hanson said, “I'm surprised it was that hard for Microsoft to discover what ‘Mac-like’ meant.”  Michael Tsai expressed a similar thought, in that he wonders why we needed to conduct focus groups to discover what “Mac-like” meant.  I’m afraid I wasn’t as clear as I could have been on this question.

At first blush, it’s easy to think, as both Chris and Michael suggest, that “Mac-like” is synonymous with adherence to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.  But, as Michael points out, Mac Word 5.x also violated a number of Apple’s HIG.  The thing we were grappling with was the fact that a number of users who had said, vociferously, that Mac Word 6.0 wasn’t “Mac-like” said nothing about Mac Word 5.x.  If both Mac Word 5.x and Mac Word 6.0 broke stride with Apple’s HIG, then these folks had to have something other than Apple’s HIG in mind when they complained about Mac Word 6.0.

We weren’t trying to figure out what the term “Mac-like” should mean.  We were trying to figure out what specific people, namely the collective body of Mac Word users, actually meant when they used the term.  Had we merely assumed that what they meant by the term is what the term ought to mean, then we’d have, essentially, repeated one of the mistakes that led to Mac Word 6.0 in the first place.  That’s why we needed to conduct the focus groups, hang out in newsgroups and talk to users about it.  And, when we did that, we discovered that most of these users really meant to say that Mac Word 6.0 departed too much from the way Mac Word 5.x did things.  To them, “Mac-like” and Mac Word 5.x were synonymous.  We were actually quite surprised to learn the extent to which we had come to define their over-all experience of using a Macintosh computer.

This is a mistake that we in the software industry make all too often.  We assume that casual, or even somewhat savvy, users mean the same thing we do when they use the terminology we use.  We assume they understand it at the same level we do.  That can be a fatal assumption.  We have to be more active listeners, we need to drill down to the specifics of what they mean when they use catch-all terms such as “Mac-like.”




Comments (9)

  1. greg says:

    Our url isn’t up yet; we’ll replace the holder page with v.1.0 next week…

    There are two really good reason why Mac’s MS Word 5.x (specifically 5.0.1a) was drastically different from v.6.x. The first and most significant is because the author, project manager, and original developer of the MS Word project retired from MS over internal issues with Bill and one other MS employee. He was one of the original seven, and many things changed at MS after he left, especially for Mac users. That’s actually oversimplifying the situation, but there it is.

    The second reason is due to the replacement for the project: the developer and project manager for MS Excel (and IBM guy, and an accountant. He had an entirely different vision for Word, and indeed Office, which we can see today (especially MS Office 2K/XP).

    It’s interesting that you point that out, as so many people have. Most people don’t know the cultural significance of this one transition for our industry, but if you look back to the other changes at about that time you’ll find something interesting.


  2. FWIW Frodo says:

    Yuck. I continued to use MS Word 4.0 as long as I could after 5 came out. 5.x introduced those huge, ugly toolbars. Horrible interface.

  3. meeroh says:

    In my experience, "Mac-like" means "the software works the way that I expect it to" to most users. Users’ expectations are not set by AHIG, they are set by software they use. It is not the case that one ought to adhere to AHIG because they are handed to us from above, but because, all other things being equal, doing so will minimize surprises on the users’ part. Of course, this argument fundamentally relies on software that’s already in your users’ hands adhering to AHIG.

    However, in the case of Word 5 – Word 6 transition, all other things are not equal — your users already had their expectations set by Word 5, and Word 6 wrecked their workflow. As you already know, that’s where the problem lies, not with your lack of adherence to AHIG per se.

    It is easy for developers such as Chris to speak ex cathedra and declare AHIG to be the end-all-be-all of user interface design, but in doing so they ignore the reality of your users’ expectations. This attitude may be appropriate in many cases — for example, educating someone who’s bringing a new app to the Mac market to follow the AHIG is generally appropriate because it will minimize the friction between the new app and their primary market (people who already use Macs) — but it is equally inappropriate in many other cases.

    That said, I find that current releases of Word still rub me the wrong way in several regards, the main of which is the inappropriate (as per AHIG) behavior of page up/down keys and modifier+arrow keys. Why does Word still stand out in this regard?

  4. Rick Schaut says:


    Not trying to be flippant, but you just cited the primary reason.

    We’ve decided to make Word 2004 conform with HIG. We’ll see if the outcry is louder :-).

  5. meeroh says:

    Excellent, I am very glad about that.

  6. The page up/down and home/end key difference between Macs and PCs is the one I wished most did not exist, but I seem to have a flipflop in my brain which auto-toggles between the two different ways they work depending on the product I use.

    I noticed that whenever I use a product by MS on the Mac, I automatically use the home/end keys for begin of line/end of line navigation, but when an application is eh.. more Mac-Like 🙂 I use command-left and right. Though where possible I have remapped the home/end keys to work more like on Windows, since I automatically use option-up and down for pagescanning anyway. In CodeWarrior, I use both ways of text navigation (Mac and PC) depending on which muscle-memory-synapse fires first. 🙂

    So if you’re going to change the way it works, please make it an option. It’s not like an extra checkbox will stand out in the maze of settings for Office.

    Oh, and whatever you do, _please_ NEVER adopt the old Mac way of extending a selection. You know, the one which you can _only_ expand the selection? The guy who thought that up should be dipped in lava.

  7. meeroh says:

    Is there a magic setting I need to turn on in Work 04 to make keyboard navigation work as it does in other apps? I tried it, and none of command-left/right, option-left/right, command-up/down, and option-up/down work as expected.

  8. Bloggable says:

    Wes Meltzer is pining for some reader response—anything to break up the onslaught of spam he receives. As fodder for some comments, this month’s Mac blogosphere scouring has turned up a lot of discussion about Microsoft Word’s downward spiral that started with version 6. Additional blogosphere topics include wishing for a modern Mac Portable, CUPS, the value of AppleCare, and three unusual iPod stories.

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